A former AFL player has welcomed an historic insurance payout, saying it is long-awaited acknowledgement of the permanent damage caused by repetitive concussions while playing football.
Shaun Smith, who played for North Melbourne and Melbourne in the late 80s and 90s, was recently paid just over $1.4 million after his insurance company found he was “totally and permanently disabled” from the brain injuries acquired during his career.
“I’m just happy that it’s finally been recognised,” he told the ABC.
The 51-year-old said his brain injury had changed his life in numerous ways, from affecting his moods to damaging his memory.
“I’m a pretty easy-going guy, and I was getting pretty angry at the drop of a hat,” he said.
“Then I started forgetting a lot of things, my short-term memory especially was not flash.
“It just goes on and on, and it doesn’t make it much fun for people living around me.”
Smith said he had fought for recognition of the damage caused by concussions, and the insurance payout helped acknowledge it was a “real thing”.
“I just hope that the AFL listen, because it’s people’s health at risk,” he said.
Agent hopes case ‘will be a benchmark’
Concerns have been rising in recent years about the potential long-term health effects of repeated head injuries in contact sports.
In February, doctors confirmed the first case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in an AFL player, 64-year-old former Geelong champion Graham “Polly” Farmer.
Former St Kilda captain and Richmond coach Danny Frawley was found to have been suffering from CTE when he died suddenly last year.
AFL player agent Peter Jess, who supported Smith’s fight for recognition, said he hoped the payout would help others seek compensation for head injuries in the future.
“I suspect it will be a benchmark in terms of the acknowledgement inside the sporting community that concussion is a disease that creates long-term damage, and has the impact of creating a total and permanent disability,” he said.
“It’s a not a transitory disease, it is permanent.”
However, he said the likelihood of other players getting similar payouts depended on their insurance, and he hoped that the case would generate debate about how to compensate people who have been damaged during their careers.
“We know that players can be totally and permanently disabled from playing football,” he said.
“Two panels of medical people have looked at Shaun’s case and said the injuries created from playing football were so significant that he’d never be able to work again.”
The AFL has been contacted for comment.